AMES — The final score was Gold 41, Cardinal 27.
Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads might not have known that following the Cyclones spring scrimmage Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in front of nearly 10,000 fans.
For Rhoads, the final score was unimportant. The progress he saw on the field after 15 spring practices was what mattered.
“Good and bad on both sides of the ball as there usually is when you go against yourselves,” Rhoads summarized. “You are never satisfied.
“There are certain spots I would’ve liked to have gotten further along with and certain spots maybe we overachieved at and that would be true of individuals as well.”
Overall, what most pleased Rhoads was from day one to day 15 was that the Cyclones were intense.
On the field Saturday, if anything shined, it was the running backs, and especially sophomore DeVondrick Nealy.
Nealy, carrying the ball for both the Gold and Cardinal squads, rushed 18 times for 142 yards and a pair of scores.
“I think I did okay,” said Nealy, who was fourth-string behind James White, Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody last season. “I really think I left some stuff out on the field. There are still a lot of things I need to get better at ... trusting my linemen and them getting the job done and doing the things I need to do to be a better runner.”
With a new emphasis on the ‘Pistol Formation’ brought into the fold when Rhoads hired former Nevada offensive coordinator Chris Klenakis from Arkansas this past off-season to coach his offensive line, Rhoads liked what he saw all spring from a deep running back position that includes Iowa Western transfer Aaron Wimberly in the mix.
Wimberly, at 5-foot-9, 173 pounds showed a different level of quickness with 15 carries for 87 yards.
“I have felt the running back position overall ... If I were to say one position group had the best spring I’d say it was the running back position,” Rhoads said.
The Cyclones ran 104 running plays for 535 yards Saturday in a game that saw no punts or kickoffs.
How ISU utilizes that deep running group is something Rhoads said his offensive staff has to figure out by the Cyclones’ opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 31.
“It’s not a concern about keeping people happy, it is what makes us most productive,” Rhoads said.
And after a slow start, Rhoads felt quarterbacks Sam Richardson and Grant Rohach, 1-2 on the depth chart, accounted for themselves well.
“It was definitely not my best day,” said Richardson, who started ISU’s final two games last year, including the loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. “I think that is the main thing is I’d rather see a better start.”
After trying to force a pass along the sidelines in the first quarter that was picked off spectacularly by defensive end Willie Scott, Richardson threw two touchdown passes — one to former Nebraska-Omaha receiver Justin Coleman for 31 yards and another swing pass to Albert Gary for five.
Richardson also threaded the needle on a great slant pass to Quenton Bundrage for a 39-yard gain in the first half.
Rohach’s day was highlighted by a 41-yard pass to P.J. Harris.
“Altogether, I feel good about the two quarterbacks we have to go out on that field and lead the team,” Rhoads added.
On the defensive side of the ball, Scott had a big game, making several big plays early, including the interception.
“I told our defensive staff that guy (Scott, a 6-foot-2, 224-pound senior defensive end) has to have a big year for us ... He showed that ability today,” Rhoads said.
Jeremiah George, Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens looked solid in a revamped linebacker group, while the defensive backfield made life tough on the wide receivers for much of the day.
That group with Jacques Washington, Jansen Watson, Sam Richardson and Cliff Stokes has the most experience returning, and a lot of coaches and players raved about the emergence of freshman defensive back Charlie Rogers of Iowa City West, who had an interception of Rohach in the second half.
“We made a lot of strides,” Washington said of the defense. “A lot of young people stepped up. Jevohn Miller played had a great spring. Jared Brackens had a good spring at linebacker, and Charlie Rogers had an amazing spring at cornerback and nickel.
“So we built a lot of depth and the young guys we needed to step up stepped up.”
Rhoads summarized the defense, which unofficially saw its No. 2 defensive give up 627 total yards in 106 plays, as a work in progress.
“I really thought they started fast,” Rhoads said. “The defensive came out with a high level of intensity and played well. I think there is a clear separation between the majority of our ones and majority of our twos.
“We have some depth, meaning two-deep in some spots and others were not there yet. I’d be fearful if we were playing game No. 1 tomorrow and some guys had to take the field.
“We are not playing tomorrow, and we still have time.”